Disney: Looking Back At TREASURE PLANET - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Disney: Looking Back At TREASURE PLANET

Alexander Wallace sets sail on a journey of galactic wonder.
A great many science fiction writers have made the cosmos into another ocean. The space battles of the mid-century genre were World War II naval and air combat in the interstellar void; the most prominent example of this today is Star Wars, whose oft-lauded trench run was inspired by World War II fighter movies like The Battle of Britain and The Dam Busters. In adapting Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous sea story to the cosmos, Treasure Planet in some ways epitomizes that basic conceit.

Treasure Planet goes farther than most of what I have mentioned by deliberately patterning its entire aesthetic after 18th century sailing. The ships of this 2002 Disney film look much like something that could have been commanded by the likes of Francis Drake or Horatio Nelson, with the smallest of additions to allow them to operate in a third spatial dimension (the only other piece of media that comes to mind with this very particular aesthetic is Bennett Coles’ novel Winds of Marque, which I read in the last few months before the arrival of a certain inconvenient disease). In designing this aesthetic, the animators aimed for seventy percent age of sail and thirty percent science fiction. Certain works, like the Imperium in Warhammer 40,000 and David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, use bits and pieces of it and base certain aspects on the period in a conceptual sense, but nothing goes so far as this film. It grounds the entire universe in a sort of Jack Vance-esque tradition of planetary romance (I immediately think of Vance’s Big Planet) that oftentimes straddles the line between the absolutely pulpiest science fiction and fantasy.
The Jim Hawkins of Treasure Planet, voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is the exact sort of character that should helm this film. All of us, at one time or another, have had a time (oftentimes right now, especially considering that we can’t see other people due to aforementioned inconvenient disease) when we have wanted to just throw everything away and see what this world actually has in store. Unfortunately, we were born too late to explore the world and too early to explore the universe (but born just in time to read Warped Factor articles, so that’s a plus). We have worked miserable jobs and studied miserable subjects, much like how Jim works at a dead-end job at his mother’s restaurant, far too often running in with the law. Adventure practically falls into his lap, and away he goes, and we along with him.

The plot is typical of the sort of adventure fiction that Treasure Island epitomized, but that is in no way a bad thing; as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Fortunately, the journey is a wonderful one, with richly imagined characters physically and psychologically. We have the uptight Dr. Doppler and the bold Captain Amelia, the cunning Long John Silver and the quirky B.E.N. We see the spangled starscapes that exist between planets, and the foreboding jungle of the titular celestial body. In some ways, this is the perfect adventure film; a boundless sense of wonder (the sort that science fiction does best), a personable bunch to share the voyage, and a clear window looking onto something beautiful.
It is a travesty that Treasure Planet never kick-started a proper franchise; there were a few video games, but the fickleness of the box office ensured that Disney strangled it at birth. But, being the aficionado of mashing up the historical and the fantastic that I am, I can say with confidence there was enough for many more stories in this universe, perhaps adapting other great seafaring stories of the pulp age (I can see it now: a version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). Treasure Planet was in many ways unique, and it is a sterling example of how the box office cares only so much about uniqueness.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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